How to Clean Pool Tile at the Waterline
While having your own backyard swimming pool or spa is a serious perk, they also come with plenty of regular maintenance in order to remain in tip-top shape. You may already know that it's important to keep leaves and debris out of the water, but even if you are diligent about keeping the water free of debris, stains or grime can collect on the tiles at the pool's waterline or fill line.
Pool staining can show up in a variety of colors and often occurs as the result of a chemical imbalance in the water reacting with the pool's surfaces. If you have a pool maintenance company, they probably regularly blast away the build-up as part of their routine cleaning. However, if you are taking care of the pool yourself, frequent cleaning will be necessary to prevent the stains from becoming so difficult to remove that you must replace the tiles for a clean look.
How Often to Clean Pool Waterline Tiles
The grime found on pool tiles is typically an accumulation of several things, including body soil, sunscreen, and mineral deposits (scale) that cling to the tiles. If you have hard-water deposits or stains in sinks or tubs inside your house, they will probably happen to your pool surfaces as well. As water evaporates, scaling occurs when mineral deposits cling to the sides of a pool. It shows up as white or gray scum and is difficult to remove.
For the easiest maintenance, the waterline tiles should be cleaned as soon as you notice any discoloration, typically weekly or monthly. Small levels of build-up at the waterline are much easier to clean rather than waiting until the tiles are heavily soiled. At the bare minimum, the tiles should always be cleaned at the beginning and end of the pool season.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Pool vacuum
- Skimmer net
- Eye protection
- Stiff-bristled brush
- Soft-bristled brush
- Plastic bucket
- Pumice stone
- Rubber gloves
- Pool pump (optional)
- Baking soda
- Dishwashing liquid
- Melamine sponge
- Commercial tile cleaner
How to Clean Pool Waterline Tiles
Remove All Organic Matter
If your pool has leaves, grass clippings, or other organic matter in the water, use a pool vacuum or net skimmer to remove as much of it as possible prior to cleaning.
Drop the Waterline
It is easier to clean the stained tiles if the waterline in your pool is slightly below its usual position. You can do this using a pool pump, though in a pinch you can skip this step.
Use a Scrub Brush
Using a stiff-bristled scrub brush (no wire bristles), scrub away the mineral deposits. Work in a circular motion in an area about three or four feet wide. If you have glass tiles, a soft-bristled brush is a better choice to prevent scratching the glass. For tight, small areas, an old toothbrush works well.
Remove Dirt and Grime
Once you have loosened the mineral deposits from the work area, remove the accumulation of body soil, dust, and grime. This can be done by scrubbing the area with one of these solutions that you have mixed in a plastic bucket:
- Dry baking soda and a few drops of water to create a paste
- One-quarter cup of dishwashing liquid and one gallon of water
Dip the scrub brush into the solution and scour the tiles at the waterline. Use a melamine sponge (like a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser) for tough-to-remove stains. Splash a bit of pool water or freshwater over the freshly cleaned area and repeat the scrubbing and cleaning steps as you move around the perimeter of the pool.
Use a Pumice Stone
If the scrub brush and cleaning solutions did not remove the mineral deposits, then it's time to use a pumice stone. These are available online and at home improvement and pool supplies stores. Made of ground volcanic rock, the stone will break apart the deposits. You must keep the stone and tile wet at all times while you work with a pumice stone or there will be excessive scratching. Work slowly with a light touch as you scrub in gentle circles along the waterline.
Try a Commercial Cleaner
If the pumice stone did not remove the build-up, you can try a tile cleaner that contains sulfamic acid (like Lime-Away). These types of cleaners are harsh and must be used with extreme care. They should not be used after you have added the regular pool chemicals to the water. After using, allow several days to pass before you treat the pool water with chemicals or swim in the water.
When to Call a Professional
If you do not want to work with heavy-duty cleaners, it may be time to consult a pool maintenance company that can help clean the tile with a high-pressure baking soda blast. On average, getting your pool cleaned regularly costs about $150 a month.
If you notice chipping or cracks, it might be best to call a pool tiling professional or pool installation company to replace or repair those tiles. You can expect to pay about $50 to $100 an hour for a tiling expert to work on your pool tiles, not including the cost of the replacement tiles. To retile an entire pool, the average cost is $15,000.
Tips to Keep Waterline Tiles Cleaner Longer
- Clean the pool tiles regularly, on a schedule, to reduce the buildup of any algae, organic debris, chemical deposits, or scale.
- Check that your pool chemical levels are adequate; any less than optimal variation can encourage algae or other deposits.
- When you notice a little scum at the water line, try using natural cleaners like baking soda, toothpaste, vinegar, dish soap, or Borax. These cleaners are gentle and will not affect your pool water's pH.